I recently was quoted in a story about “the worst” Halloween candies. As I was discussing my conclusions with another dietitian, she claimed that the famed “Eat This, Not That” book series recommended the opposite of what I recommended (concluding that it’s best to go with low fat or fat-free candies). Generally I don’t like putting food into “good” or “bad” categories, but in the case of candy, it’s a little easier to do. While some RDs have differing opinions from my own (for instance, I don’t think organic candy is a better choice, but simply a personal one), the final message I have for my readers is this: “It all comes down to portions”. Smaller is better.
Candy tastes good. That’s why people like it. Children are going to be exposed to it throughout their life, and chances are they aren’t going to be able to stick to a “only organic” candy route.
Unlike a lot of other high sugar or high fat packaged snacks that are disguised as “healthy”, candy pretty much wears its treat category on its sleeve with no claims about health. All candy is well labeled too so you can easily see how many calories are packed into it (sometimes you may have to divide or multiply).
Sugar and carbohydrates can also lead to cavities. For years, your dentist has been telling you to brush your teeth several times a day, and has probably warned you about the dental caries that it can cause. The stickier it is (gummy, chewy candies), the worse it is for your teeth (chocolate actually clears through the mouth pretty quickly).
So it’s no surprise that overall, candy isn’t something that should be a regular part of your diet. That doesn’t mean, however, that you have to ban it. Just like any treat, you simply need to consume it with the facts in mind, and in moderate amounts, only occasionally.
Here’s why I grouped these candies into “best” and “worst”. Worst types are the most sugary and gooey. These aren’t just bad for your teeth, but I’m convinced that most kids need to reduce the sugar, over fat, in their diets. Also, if portion is controlled, I’m not too worried about a 2-grams-of-fat-difference. And, even though it’s miniscule, a chocolate bar with some peanut butter or a few nuts provides some nutrition, over the all-sugar type candy like candy corn or “fruit snacks” (which of course generally aren’t fruit, unless they are labeled as “made from 100% fruit and fruit juice). Organic candy still has all of the sugar, fat and calories of non-organic. Reese’s peanut butter cups (I don’t work for Hershey’s but I like the local company) are going to provide just as much protein as an organic peanut butter cup; the bottom line however is just as you don’t want your fruit serving to be an artificial fruit snack, you don’t want your daily protein source to be coming from candy (although Reese’s Giant Cups are often used as a protein supplement in nursing homes to help the frail elderly enjoy more calories and protein).
My recommendation is to choose only fun-size or bit-size candies, and don’t overdo it (see my tips for trick-or-treat night). Here are some nutrition facts to compare:
Reese’s Miniature Peanut Butter Cup, ~44 calories, 2.6 grams fat, 4.6 grams sugar, <1 gram protein
Regular Reese’s Cup, single, 110 calories, 6 grams fat, 11 grams sugar, 3 grams protein
Hershey Kiss, 22 calories, 1.3 grams fat, 2.5 grams sugar, 0 protein
Fun Size Nestle Crunch Bar, 70 calories, 4 grams fat, 8 grams sugar, 0 protein
Fun Size Kit Kat bar, 70 calories, 3.7 grams fat, 7 grams sugar, 1 gram protein
Fun Size 3 Musketeers, 60 calories, 2 grams fat, 9 grams sugar, 0 protein
Fun Size Snickers, 71 calories, 4 grams fat, 8 grams sugar, 1 gram protein (brush your teeth!)
Tootsie Rolls, 6 pieces, 155 calories, 1 gram fat, 23 grams sugar, 1 gram protein
Twizzlers, 4 pieces, 158 calories, 1 gram fat, 18 grams sugar, 1 gram protein
Fun Dip, 1 pack, 50 calories, 0 fat, 13 grams sugar, 0 protein
Candy Corn, 10 pieces, 75 calories, 0 fat, 16 grams sugar, 0 protein
“Fruit” Snacks, 1 small pouch, 90 calories, 0 fat, 21 grams sugar, 1 gram protein